Land Rover

Land Rover is the name of one of the first civilian all-terrain utility vehicles, first produced by Rover in 1948. Eventually, the Land Rover division was split off from Rover, and produced an expanding range of four wheel drive vehicles under a succession of owners, including British Leyland, British Aerospace, BMW, and, from 2000, Ford in their Premier Automotive Group. Land Rovers are manufactured in Solihull, England (near Birmingham) and Halewood, England (near Liverpool) and are exported around the world.


The first Land Rover was designed in 1947, in Wales in the United Kingdom, by Maurice Wilks, the chief designer at the British car company Rover, as a farm vehicle that could be used for everything from ploughing fields to driving in town. It is said that he was inspired by an American World War II Jeep that he used on his estate. The first Land Rover prototype ‘centre steer’ was built on a Jeep chassis. A distinctive feature has been their bodies, constructed of a lightweight rustproof proprietary alloy of aluminium and magnesium called Birmabright This material was used owing to post war steel shortages and a plentiful supply of post-war aircraft aluminium. This metal’s resistance to corrosion was one of the factors that allowed the vehicle to build up a reputation for longevity in the toughest conditions. The early choice of colour was dictated by army surplus supplies of paint, so early vehicles only came in various shades of green; all models until recently feature sturdy box section ladder-frame chassis. Now the Freelander and the Range Rover use a more usual monocoque body construction.

The early vehicles, such as the Series 1, were designed to be field-serviced; advertisements for Rovers have bragged about vehicles driven thousands of miles on banana oil. Now with more complex service requirements this is less of an option. The British Army maintains the use of the 300TDi engined versions rather than the TD5 to retain some servicing simplicity. This engine also continued in use in some export markets.

Land Rovers, particularly the commercial and military models, became ubiquitous throughout rural areas and in the developing World. The Land Rover featured in the South African movie The Gods Must Be Crazy illustrates the love-hate relationship many owners feel with the earlier Series 1, 2 and 3 vehicles.

Land Rovers have competed in the Paris Dakar Rally as well as being the vehicle used for the Camel Trophy as part of a sponsorship deal. The Land Rover Defender is also used by military forces throughout the world. In the UK armed forces, the very expensive Pinzgauer, now built in the UK, is increasingly common in roles previously the preserve of the Land Rover Defender such as ambulances, artillery tractor and weapons platform with 188 Pinzgauers in service and 15,000 Land Rovers.

Since the 1970s, in most remote areas of Africa, South America, Asia and in the Australian Outback the Toyota Land Cruiser has overtaken the Land Rover as the utility 4×4 of choice, probably because of the better parts network offered by Japanese competitors. In Australia at least, pricing is actually comparable or in favour of the Land Rover. Another reason seems to be the ‘leadfoot’ factor – the workhorse Toyota models tend to have larger engines than the comparable Land Rover models.

In Britain, the Land Rover fell from favour with the farming community with the arrival of less expensive Japanese alternatives, with Diahatsu Fourtracks and Isuzu Troopers becoming a common sight on farms around the country, until rust eventually ended their working lives. However, with subtle improvements to the Defender in the early 1990s, and with the introduction of better, more reliable engines in the form of the TDi (especially the 300TDi) and the new five-cylinder TD5, most farms once again have a Land Rover Defender in their yard.

Company timeline

  • 1948 Land Rover is designed by the Wilks Brothers and is manufactured by the Rover Company
  • 1967 Rover becomes part of Leyland Motors Ltd, later British Leyland
  • 1970 Introduction of the Range Rover
  • 1975 BL collapses and is nationalised, publication of the Ryder Report recommends that Land Rover be split from Rover and be treated as a separate company within BL
  • 1980 Rover car production ends at Solihull, which is now exclusively for Land Rover manufacture. 5-door Range Rover introduced.
  • 1986 BL, now known as the Rover Group, is privatised and becomes part of British Aerospace
  • 1987 Range Rover is introduced to the U.S market
  • 1989 Introduction of the Discovery (Disco I to enthusiasts)
  • 1994 Rover Group is taken over by BMW. Introduction of second-generation Range Rover.
  • 1998 Introduction of the Freelander
  • 1999 (Midyear) Introduction of the second generation of Discovery (Disco II)
  • 2000 BMW breaks up the Rover Group and sells Land Rover to Ford.
  • 2002 Introduction of third-generation Range Rover
  • 2005 Introduction of the third-generation Discovery/LR3
  • 2005 Introduction of Range Rover Sport
  • 2005 Adoption of the Jaguar AJ-V8 engine to replace the BMW M62 V8 in the Range Rover


  • Series I, II and III – the original off-roader
  • Defender – Updated Series line, with a move from extreme utilitarianism.
  • Freelander – compact crossover 4×4
  • Discovery/LR3 – mid-size off-roader
  • Range Rover – full-size luxury off-roader
  • Range Rover Sport – full-size luxury crossover 4×4

There have also been models developed for the British Army

  • 101 Forward Control – also known as the “Land Rover One Tonne”
  • 1/2 ton Lightweight – airportable military short wheelbase from the Series 2a
  • Land Rover Wolf – an uprated Military Defender

At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Land Rover introduced its first concept, the Range Stormer (Gritzinger, 2004).

The armoured police vehicle, the Shorland, was not a Land Rover produced model but was built from Land Rover parts by Shorts of Belfast. These were used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment until the 1970s, when a more conventional armoured Land Rover Tangi was built.


Road accident statistics on a model-by-model basis from the UK Department of Transport show that the Land Rover Defender and Land Rover Discovery are the safest cars on the UK roads (measured in terms of chance of death in an accident) – between three times safer than the safest Volvo models, twice as safe (half the death-rate per accident) compared with the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota Land Cruiser and only matched by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Jaguar XJ.

Beginning with the Discovery Series III (LR3 in the US) model, one of the replacement power plants for the new model will be a 4.2L V8 engine developed by Jaguar (Jaguar is also part of the Ford Group).

Some of the service problems in US specification Land Rover Defender and Discovery models are related to the Rover V8 petrol engine, as Land Rover increased the displacement and otherwise modernized the engine, which was designed in the late 1950s by General Motors for Buick. The same engine has powered a variety of other British cars, including the Rover 3500 and Triumph TR8.

Most European, South African and Australian specification Defenders and Discovery models are now equipped with the TD5 diesel engine and reliability has still proven a problem as detailed in the surveys above.

Land Rover still makes heavy use of the British Leyland parts bin on its older models (the Defender and Freelander in particular), and this as well as its parts-sharing scheme often cited as the cause of many malfunctions, it now appears that Ford is attempting to legitimately address the Land Rover quality issues. It was reported in the Birmingham Post on 27th May 2004 that Ford’s senior management have given the Land Rover plant 8 weeks to come up with a “road map” to address the quality issues at Land Rover and bring its competitiveness up to global standards in 5 years. Ford has threatened Solihull with closure unless significant improvements are realised, and with no replacement for the Jaguar X-type on the cards, it seems likely that there will be sufficient extra capacity at Halewood in the coming years to accommodate the entire Land Rover range.

Land Rover’s CEO described this as “crunch time” for Land Rover.

Despite the recent drops in quality, it is rumored that 75% of all Land Rovers produced since 1955 are still on the road. This figure may be misleading, due to the wider range of vehicles and much higher production of recent years. The longevity of individual vehicles may also tend to hide any improvements in production quality as assembly faults, once fixed, may stay fixed, and so may only matter to the first buyer.

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